Bassist Kyle Bann on the new album, the state of rock and… burgers?
BY MACKENZIE REAGAN, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
In October 2016, Bostonians-turned-Brooklynites Slothrust released their first album since moving across the country to Los Angeles. “Everyone Else,” a fusion of neo-blues and 90’s grunge, received critical acclaim from the likes of Noisey, BrooklynVegan and the VIllage Voice. The band plays D.C.’s Black Cat March 7. Bassist Kyle Bann chatted with Fourth Estate over the phone recently. Below is an edited transcript.
Fourth Estate: Thanks for taking the time to chat, I’m sure you’re pretty busy…
Kyle Bann: Yeah, it’s a busy time for us, for sure. But I’m happy to take time and chat for a moment.
F: Tell me a little bit about how you got started. I understand you all met in college.
K: Yeah, we all met at Sarah Lawrence College, and we met socially, but we played in a bunch of school-type bands together.
F: You used to live in Brooklyn, but you recently lived in Los Angeles…
K: We all lived in Brooklyn for about five years, and that’s when we started being a band. We played live there all the time for several years and built ourselves into a scene. Recently, in the last six months, we’ve all relocated to L.A. We’ve all been there a lot, but it’s a different experience when you live there.
F: How does it compare in terms of music scene?
K: Although I’m familiar with the Brooklyn scene, I haven’t really investigated what the local vibe is in L.A. is. But it seems kind of similar in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t have the same vibe that New York has in terms of being quite so packed together. There’s still millions and millions of people, but it’s a little more spread out. It’ll be interesting to see how it is different.
F: There are so many bands in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles that are struggling to make it. What do you think sets you apart as a band?
K: You’re definitely right about that. There’s so many bands in Brooklyn, especially as you hang out and play there, the more people you meet, and it sort of seems like, “Wow, everyone I know is in a band.” It’s pretty similar in L.A., even in the short time that I’ve been there, I’ve met a whole lot of musicians from different genres and walks of life. With Slothrust, we’re playing stuff the only way we know how. And I feel like that’s what bands who find their own sound do. That’s what I look for when I see a band I like, something that will draw me in, seeing people who play in the best way they know how.
F: The Village Voice last fall said that Slothrust sounds like “what would happen if Kurt Cobain learned guitar from BB King and hired Metallica’s rhythm section.” Do you that’s accurate?
K: [Laughs] Ah, somewhat. I definitely don’t dislike that comparison. More recently, I think we’re on more of a Nirvana-meets-Steely Dan kick. We are sort of somewhat learned musicians who spend a lot of time playing a grungy/punk rock type thing. So yeah, that’s pretty accurate. What we’re all about is meshing stuff together, which is really a combination of our lifelong musical interests.
F: Yeah, I was listening to your most recent album, “Everyone Else,” and I definitely hear the blues but also the grunge. What artists were you listening to as you were working on this album?
K: That is definitely the vibe we’re going for. What we listen to changes a lot. What we’re listening to at the time doesn’t necessarily influence the writing as it might the production. We were listening to a lot of Lana Del Rey, and that kind of sound influenced us in a big way. But we were also trying to something more live with it. I’m kind of always listening to a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan, for sure.
F: There’s this perennial argument that’s resurfaced lately that rock, particularly indie, is dead. What do you think?
K: I don’t think it’s dead at all! I think maybe it’s become more localized. I know a lot of people who play guitar still. Whether it’s people who are doing that on a professional level or people who are doing it for fun. Either way, a million people play guitar. Guitar is still in this country equated with rock music. What that shows us really is that even if rock isn’t necessarily on top of the charts all the time, people are still doing it a lot. And there are still a lot of good rock music coming out. We toured with Highly Suspect—those guys [were] nominated for a Grammy [twice in 2016 and once in 2017]. I definitely don’t think it’s totally fair to say “rock is dead.” The whole music scene on a national level has become so much broader. Maybe in terms of overall marketshare, rock probably has a smaller piece in the music realm pie. But I don’t think it’s gone at all. You go to an underground show in Brooklyn pretty much every night of the week and see a kickass rock band.
F: What about the changing nature of rockstardom? Do people like Taylor Swift and Kanye West count as rockstars? Or is a rockstar strictly the frontman of a “rock” band?
K: I feel like Kanye’s a rockstar, y’know? For better or worse. I like a lot of Kanye’s music. l like a lot of Taylor Swift’s music too, I’m not gonna lie. I saw her sing one time in person, and she is really, really good. She can really sing, no joke. I don’t know. [Laughs] What does that even mean? Everyone’s a rockstar, if you wanna be, I guess.
F: Do you consider yourself one?
K: Oh, I don’t know… I just wanna play music and have fun. I wanna play music with my friends. I try not to think about things on those terms.
F: Do you ever have those moments where you’re like, “OK, this is it, I’ve made it?”
K: Yes and no. Sometimes, there’s things where you look around like, “What am I doing here?” “How did we get to this point?” One of our songs is the theme song on “You’re the Worst.” That happened to us pretty early on. And that was definitely a moment for sure, watching an actual TV channel with real commercials and everything and hearing my friend [lead singer] Leah [Wellbaum]’s voice come out of the TV. That was surreal for sure.
F: What’s in store in the future for you?
K: The band’s always working on stuff. We’re three individuals who like to stay working. That’s one of the big driving forces of the band—we’re three people who genuinely enjoy playing our instruments. We all practice at home all the time. We’re gonna be on the road a lot this year. We’re gonna be on the road for all of March, which includes the [March 7] show in D.C. We’re really excited about that—playing the Black Cat, which is one of my favorite venues downtown. [In addition to working on music videos], hopefully, there’ll be more music in the works at some point in the near future. One big thing that we’re trying to accomplish in the next year is getting the word out overseas; we’re hoping to make it to the UK.
F: You all studied music. Did you have a specialization?
K: We were all jazz students, which is something that definitely influenced [us] a lot. We spent a lot of time learning how to play jazz standards and jazz chords. That was our primary musical education. [While we dabbled in world and improvisational music], jazz was definitely the foundation of our music.
F: What about in high school, what were you listening to?
K: I was a big metal head and classic rock person. I was definitely blasting a lot of Metallica and Guns ‘N’ Roses and stuff like that. But also more classic rock like the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and some soul, like Aretha Franklin; jazz, showtunes.
F: At what point did you know you wanted to be a musician professionally?
K: That’s a good question—I’ve been playing for a long time. I played piano as a kid. I was always in the school band. It was just something I’ve done forever. I don’t know exactly when it was like, “Do you wanna do this for life?” kind of thing. But it’s sort of like snowballed. I guess even back in high school, I started playing at bar mitzvahs and weddings with friends. Since college, more and more, it’s become a part of my life.
F: OK, these next three questions have nothing to do with music, but they’re very important.
K: [Laughs] Um, OK.
F: Ready? OK, this first one is kind of musical. What was the first album you bought?
K: I’m pretty sure it was “Californiacation” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was pretty young.
F: Great. Next: Who gets to play you in your eventual biopic?
K: Ummmm…Brendan Fraser from, like, 15 years ago.
F: Lastly, who has better burgers, NYC’s Shake Shack or L.A.’s In N Out?
K: Oh, I’m definitely going with In N Out.
F: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Kyle.
K: Great talking to you.
Slothrust plays the Black Cat March 7.
Doors at 7:30
$13 advance/$15 day of show